Security Tips

Are Safe Deposit Boxes FDIC-Insured?

Safe Lock

As you probably know, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (more commonly known as the FDIC) automatically provides insurance for up to $250,000 (per person, per financial institution / bank) of money deposited into a bank. That means that in the event of a natural disaster or bank collapse, your money is safe. Since the insurance is from the government, it’s not backed by a private corporation, so it will be there no matter what, unless the government were to fail (in which case you probably have bigger issues to worry about).

So bank accounts are FDIC insured. But what about safe deposit boxes in a bank’s vault?

Are safe deposit boxes insured by the FDIC?

Gold Combination Lock

The short answer is no. Safe deposit boxes are NOT FDIC insured. That means that in the event of a disaster, the contents of your safe deposit box may not actually be as safe as you think. The contract you signed when you leased the box likely says the bank is not liable if the contents are ruined, perhaps by something like a hurricane or flood. Hurricane Katrina destroyed at least 8,000 safe deposit boxes in 2005, so it can happen. (Source)

Even though there’s no FDIC insurance, the bank itself may have some limited insurance. Check your contract, because they might at least refund the charge of the box’s lease to you. (Obviously, it doesn’t make sense to keep your contract in the deposit box!)

However, if a bank fails, they are legally obligated to return the contents of your safe deposit box to you.  According to the FDIC website, in the event of a bank’s collapse, your possessions from the safe deposit box ought to be available for you to pick up from the bank on the next business day. (Source)

Some Euros on a table

Image via PicJumbo

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should avoid safe deposit boxes. In most ways, keeping valuable papers or other items secure in a bank vault will be safer than keeping them at home, especially if you don’t have a good home safe in your house. You may also be able to get a rider on your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy to cover safety deposit box contents. Your standard policy may or may not cover it, but if it does, there’s likely a $1,000 limit.

If you’re considering keeping money in a vault, don’t do it. By putting it into an actual bank account, you’ll not only gain FDIC insurance coverage on it, you’ll also receive interest. Also, don’t keep your will in the bank. Although it seems to make sense, it will require a court order to open your vault to get at the will after your death.

Best Diversion Safes for Your Car

I’ve written about diversion safes before. See what is a diversion safe. A home diversion safe can be a great way to give some protection to your valuables. After all, someone robbing your house isn’t really likely to look inside your deodorant stick (yes, really!), right?
Deodorant Safe on Amazon
Well, your house isn’t the only place you’ll want to hide stuff from thieves. In fact, it might be even more useful to have an automotive diversion safe for your car. There are only so many places to hide valuable stuff in a car.

Where to hide valuables in a car

Obviously, leaving your valuables on the seat or anywhere visible through the window is a bad idea. Having flashy rims, or a new, booming stereo system visible to passersby can also be an invitation to thieves.

The best way for someone to not rob your car might be to have an older, nondescript car. According to this report, the top five brands of cars most likely to be broken into are, in order, Smart, Bentley, Land Rover, SsangYong, and Peugeot. I’ve never heard of SsangYong before, but the others are all newer, nicer cars that will stand out. The list of cars most likely to be stolen shows a similar pattern. It starts with BMW, then moves to Bentley, Audi, Land Rover, and Mercedes.

Of course, even if you know not to leave your GPS visible on the dashboard, sometimes you need to carry valuables in the car. Maybe it’s money, or a check, credit card, cell phone, or GPS unit. Where should you hide a GPS unit in your car?

The problem with cars is that there are only a few hiding places to choose from. You could stick stuff in the glove box, but I know if I was breaking into a car (which I’d never do!) the glove compartment would be the first place I’d look. Under the seat is an option, but again, it’s way too obvious to be effective. So how do you solve this? Make your own hiding place!

Car diversion safes

A good car diversion safe is the answer to where to hide valuables in the car. Remember, the purpose of a diversion safe is to be a hiding place that looks like something else. There are lots available for your house, but not as many for your car.

You could make your own diversion safe for your car by keeping your valuables in a bag in the bottom of your car’s garbage bag. No thief is going to dig through old fast food wrappers looking for treasure! Of course, you probably don’t want to either…and what if you accidentally threw away what you’re trying to protect? So, that’s not really an ideal option.

WD-40 Safe on AmazonHere’s a good one: A fake can of WD-40. No one would think twice at seeing a spray can of WD-40 lubricant rolling around in the trunk of a car, but it’s too much of a bother for someone to steal. What a perfect hiding place in your car or pickup truck for money or jewelry!

Fake cigarette lighter on AmazonOr this one. It’s a fake cigarette lighter. Again, it’s something that every car has, but who would even think of stealing it? It can’t hold much, but it’s a great storage spot in a pinch for some valuable medication, papers, lottery tickets, or cash.

Sadly, it doesn’t work as an actual lighter, but hey, smoking kills. No one actually uses the car lighter for a lighter, do they? Aren’t they really just annoying plugs for covering the cell phone charger or GPS plug?

Finally, you could also just use another diversion safe for your car from your house. Just make sure it’s something that looks like it could belong in an automotive, like this fake lint roller.

Hopefully this gave you some ideas. Diversion safes work! Just make sure you’re using them to protect stuff that’s legal for you to have – The FBI has issued a bulletin about them, so cops know to thoroughly search anything that could be concealing something else.

How to Protect Your Laptop from Theft

Secure Laptop against theft

What is the single most valuable thing you own? For most of us, it’s a car or a house. Aside from those, however, I’d venture a guess that your most valuable possession is your laptop computer. I know my custom-built MacBook Pro was by far the biggest purchase I’ve ever made.

Beyond the obvious value of what you paid for it, your laptop also likely has tons of your personal information on it. I know I have my banking information, all my receipts and financial records, my photos, and lots of my scrapbook memories on mine, as well as software that I’ve purchased and installed.

Secure Laptop against theft
Now, obviously, no one is going to walk off with your house, and your car has its own insurance. But how do you protect your laptop from theft? After all, it’s lightweight and easy for a thief to just walk off with.

You can’t put it into a safety deposit vault at the bank (well, ok, you could, but then it would be about as useful to you as if it was stolen!), but there are some simple ways to secure your laptop against theft and to minimize the damage if it is stolen.

Protecting Your Laptop

Our first priority is to stop someone from stealing your computer. Now, the obvious way to keep is secure is to stay by it all the time. But, that’s not practical. For instance, many people use their laptops in the library, either in a public library or a college library. If you get up to go to the bathroom, or to get a cup of coffee, or even just to pick up a job from the printer, you probably don’t want to carry your computer with you.

Computer Security Cable

Security Cable on AmazonFortunately, you don’t need to. You’ve probably never noticed it, but your laptop almost certainly has a Kensington security slot on it. What is a Kensington security slot? It’s a little slot on your computer which provides an anchor to attach a security cable like this one to your computer.

The other end of the cable can be wrapped in a loop around a desk or a study carrel to keep your computer safe. It’s not a bad idea to use a cable like this in your dorm room as well, because even if you trust your roommates, you might not trust everyone who they could let into the room.

A combination lock computer security cable is also small enough to carry around in your computer case. Of course, it could be cut by a determined thief with a wire-cutters, but so could a bicycle lock. A cable should be more than enough to deter any opportunistic sticky-fingered passersby.

Laptop Security Safe

If you’re worried about an intruder breaking into your residence and want something stronger than a cable, you might be interested in a low-profile laptop safe like this one. This model has a digital lock and can easily fit most laptops or tablets. It also has soft padding to keep from scratching your baby.
Laptop Safe on

You can hide the safe in a desk drawer, or under a bed. Again, it’s not perfect against a determined thief, but it will definitely keep your nosy roommate from snooping on your stuff or stealing your identity! It also claims to be fire-resistant, so it should help at least a little in case of a fire.

If you’re more concerned about price, here’s a good budget laptop safe. This one is lighter, but it has its own Kensington security slot right on it to allow you to use a cable to secure the case to some furniture.

What If Your Laptop Is Stolen?

We’ve covered some good ways to keep your laptop safe from thieves, but what if it is stolen? What will you do to keep your data safe?

One of the biggest problems that almost no one thinks about until their device is stolen is passwords. Most people take advantage of the feature in their browser that automatically remembers passwords for the sites they use. That convenience is helpful, but if you lose access to your browser, there are two problems.

First, someone who has access to your computer has access to your passwords. To get around that, make sure you have a strong password set on your computer itself and that the password is required at login. Consider using a password management program to store your passwords, logins, and credit cards instead of the built in browser tool. Personally, I use 1Password for Mac and I’m really happy with it.

Second, if you lose access to your computer, you lose your own access to your data. Again, 1Password can help with this. You can keep all your password data and other important files and pictures in Dropbox so they’re automatically, securely backed up to the cloud and you can access them from other devices or over the internet.

Finally, make sure you have account validation and two factor authentication set up for all the websites you use that support it, like Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Hopefully these tips can help you keep your laptop secure against anyone who wants to take it!

Documents to Keep in a Home Safe

Piggy Bank SafeWe’re well into the 21st century, so you have an entirely paperless life, right? No? Well, it’s good to have goals to aspire too 🙂

In the mean time while we’re waiting for the legendary paper-free office, we’re all accumulating more and more documents with each passing month. Of course, some of these are more important than others and need to be kept safe. But which ones?

Here are some tips to help you decide which documents need to be kept in a safe and which will be ok on a desk, in a drawer, or in a normal file cabinet.

Irreplaceable Heirlooms

If you can’t replace it, you need to protect it. Any irreplaceable antique documents related to your heritage should be kept somewhere fire and waterproof. If you have family relics like old love letters, charters, or ancient deeds, you’ll want to store them somewhere other than a cardboard box in the basement.

For documents with primarily sentimental value, you don’t need to worry about theft as much as natural disaster. What would happen if your house flooded? If there was a fire? Keep the dangers in mind when you’re choosing how to protect your heirloom papers.

Life Documents


Documents related to your life might technically be replaceable, but it’s a huge nuisance to get copies from the government. Also, losing these can likely allow someone to steal your identity. Again, these can be replaced, but keeping them secure in the first place is far easier!

This category includes things like passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates, vaccination records, and social security cards. The safest place for these is of course a safety deposit box at your bank, but you will occasionally need access to them. A fireproof home safe is an excellent alternative to a bank safe deposit box, and it’s much more convenient. Keeping them in a safe also guarantees they will not be misplaced, but will be ready when you need them.

Financial Information

Some Euros on a table

Image via PicJumbo

Information regarding current debts, investment contracts, or retirement plans should be kept securely in your house. You never know when you’ll need them, so you want them accessible, but these again could be stolen if kept in the open.

It’s not a bad idea to keep some cash on hand as well. Perhaps a portion of your emergency fund should stay in your safe – although not too much, since an emergency fund works best if you can pretend you don’t have it!

Just In Case: Wills and Insurance Information

Locked Gate

Image via PicJumbo 

If something were to happen to you, your property, your house, or your loved ones, certain documents would need to be readily available. Insurance contracts and policies should be kept somewhere secure, yet accessible. In the event of  a crisis, you don’t want to have to search for insurance policy information in order to take advantage of the coverage you’ve been paying for.

Make sure someone besides you knows where your documents are and how to get at them. In the event of your unexpected incapacitation or death, someone else will need to be able to get at your will, so be sure to store it in your safe and let your family know how to get it.

What Else?

Now you have a better idea of what documents to keep in your home safe. I’m not a lawyer, so take my advice with a grain of salt, but hopefully this gives you some ideas. If you’re wondering what’s the best home safe for your needs, check out my list on the front page.

Other images via Flickr here and here.

What else do you keep in your safe?

Is a Diversion Safe Worth It?

What is a diversion safe?

Basically, a diversion safe is a disguised safe. The intention is to provide a place to store valuables in your home or office in a place no one would think to look. You can also get a diversion safe for your car – see this article.

Some of the classic examples are cutting out the middle of a large book, like an encyclopedia  (because face it, who uses these anymore?), and putting cash inside. From the outside, it looks like a normal book. The point is that if someone breaks into your house, they won’t find your money.

Thief Breaking into Window

A traditional home safe relies on a thief not being able to break in. The robber knows where what they’re looking for is, but can’t break through to get at the valuables. Of course, with enough time, pretty much any safe can be broken into with a hacksaw or cutting torch. A small, portable safe can be simply picked up and carried out by an intruder, so if you’re going this route, make sure you have something large, heavy, and securely attached to a wall or the floor.

A diversion safe relies on security through obscurity. Realistically, if someone breaks into your house, they’re not going to be looking in the pantry or cleaning supplies, they’re going to be looking in office desk drawers and grabbing electronics. No one wants to steal a can of soup, or a dictionary.

If you are going to go the camouflage diversion safe route, it’s a good idea to have some decoy valuables. Perhaps stick some money into a desk drawer, so an intruder will find it and assume they’ve found everything of value in the house. Otherwise, on finding nothing valuable, they might get suspicious and start looking through the cupboards.

Now for the real question: Is it worth it?

Is it worth it to buy a diversion safe?

There’s a tremendous variety available, and they’re generally pretty reasonably priced. You can get safes in the shape of a Mountain Dew can (or Coca-Cola or Sprite if you prefer), shaving cream, dictionaries, a candle, lip stick, a wall clock, and even my personal favorite, a hair brush.

Some of these make more sense than others. Obviously, the idea is to get something that won’t look like it’s worth stealing. It should also be something that looks natural in your house. For instance, if there’s no other soda in the house, that lonely can of Mountain Dew is going to look a bit suspicious. And of course, it could lead to awkward explanations if you have a thirsty guest!

If you don’t have a razor or any other shaving supplies, then a shaving cream safe might not be the best fit, and if you’re a Kindle fan and have no physical books around, then a dictionary will definitely stand out!

Coffee House Divergence Safe on Amazon

Yes, this is a safe

Also, some of these are so small that you can’t fit very much into one.
My other concern with these is whether it’s worth buying one as opposed to just using your own. For something like the hairbrush safe, you’d probably need to buy it. But for the coffee container safe, I guess I don’t really see the point of buying one versus just using your own empty coffee container! It’s not like the purchased one is going to provide much of any real barrier to a determined thief.

Some do have key access, but since they’re so small, someone could just take it, and again, with enough time, they’ll be able to open it and extricate the contents.

Anyway, I’m not convinced a diversion safe is completely worth it, but it is fun to see what’s available. Head over to Amazon and look at this tremendously creative selection of things you never would have thought of selling! Click here to go to Amazon and see their diversion safe collection.

Photo Credit: Eastlaketimes cc.

Protecting Your Home While on Vacation

Thief Breaking into WindowThe best time for someone to break into your house is when you’re not at home. Most people who commit home invasions aren’t interested in kidnapping or assaulting someone. They’re just looking to make a quick buck by getting in, taking stuff, and getting out without being caught. That’s why one way to protect your stuff is to put it in less-obvious hiding places like these.

The ideal situation for a criminal is to walk into a home where the residents are on vacation and have time to decide what to take. Here are some ideas to protect your home while on vacation and keep that from happening.

Don’t Broadcast Your Vacations Online

Most of us post what we’re doing and where we’re going on Facebook or Twitter. Usually, that’s probably ok. After all, you trust your friends not to rob you. But if your posts are viewable by the public, then you’re really telling the whole world when your house will be empty.

Even if you don’t have your address listed in your profile, you likely have the city you’re posting or tweeting from attached to your posts. If someone knows your name and city, finding your home address is as easy as looking in the white pages of the local phone book (yes, phone books still exist).

Tell Your (Trusted) Neighbors

Unless you totally don’t trust your neighbors (in which case, maybe – instead of going on vacation – you should be saving money towards moving to a better neighborhood!), it’s a good idea to tell a couple people nearby that you’ll be out of town. That way, when they drive by, they’ll be able to notice if something suspicious is going on.

For instance, if they know you’re out of town, but they see a delivery truck parked in the driveway for a long time, they’ll know something’s going on that shouldn’t be.

Stop Your Mail

MailboxA pile of newspapers on a front porch or an overflowing mail box is a dead giveaway that no one’s at home. Fortunately, this is an easy issue to fix. Either ask a neighbor to take care of getting your mail and paper, or contact your paper deliverer to stop delivery until you’re home again. They might even be willing to not charge you for the time you’re gone and extend your subscription longer!

For your mail, contact the United States Postal Service and ask them to put a hold on your mail. You can either call your local post office, or fill out this online form. You can schedule this service up to a month ahead of time, or as late as 2 am on the day you want them to start holding it. When you get back, just go to the post office to pick up all your mail.

Don’t Hide A Key

Lots of people hide a key outside their house somewhere. On the one hand, that’s great in case you lose your key somewhere, or if you have kids coming home from school or something like that. However, there aren’t really that many places to hide a key, so thieves know where to look.

Getting a fake rock, or hiding the key under the doormat is great, but thieves know where to look. It’s a much better idea to give a key to a neighbor for safekeeping. A neighbor who has a key also has the ability to check on your house if something happens, such as flooding in the area, or something like that.

Anti-Theft Lighting

Thieves don’t want to be seen. Simply putting motion-activated lights outside your house can scare away casual thieves.

In addition, putting some inside lamps, or even your television on a cheap timer inside your house can make your home appear occupied. Think of the kid in the Home Alone movies – only much simpler!

With your home more secure, have a great time on your vacation!

Photo Credits: Steve 2.0 and
Eastlaketimes via Compfight cc